Zelo tehtno razmišljanje spodaj, ki med štirimi možnimi razlagami izpostavi vojaško racionalno opcijo. Pri čemer najbrž ne bi smeli povsem spregledati možnosti skritega dogovarjanja med ZDA in Rusijo, da v bodočem mirovnem sporazumu slednja obdrži ozemlja levo od Dnjepra.
In January, 1944, the newly reconstituted German Sixth Army found itself in an operationally cataclysmic situation in the southern bend of the Dnieper River, in the area of Krivoi Rog and Nikopol. The Germans occupied a dangerous salient, jutting out precariously into the Red Army’s lines. Vulnerable on two awkward flanks, and facing an enemy with superiority in manpower and firepower, any general worth his salt would have sought to withdraw as soon as possible. In this case, however, Hitler insisted that the Wehrmacht hold the salient, because the region was Germany’s last remaining source of manganese – a mineral crucial for making high quality steel.
A year prior, in the opening weeks of 1943, Hitler had intervened in another, more famous battle, forbidding the previous incarnation of the Sixth Army from breaking out of a pocket forming around it at Stalingrad. Prohibited from withdrawing, the Sixth was annihilated wholesale.
In both of these cases, there was a clash between pure military prudence and broader political aims and needs. In 1943, there was neither a compelling military nor political reason to keep the 6th Army in the pocket at Stalingrad – political intervention in military decision making was both senseless and disasterous. In 1944, however, Hitler (however difficult it is to admit it) had a valid argument. Without manganese from the Nikopol area, German war production was doomed. In this case, political intervention was perhaps warranted. Leaving an army in a vulnerable salient is bad, but so is running out of manganese.
These two tragic fates of the Sixth Army illustrate the salient issue today: how do we parse the difference between military and political decision making? More specifically, to what do we attribute the shocking Russian decision to withdraw from the west bank of the Dnieper in Kherson oblast, after annexing it just a few months ago?
I would like to parse through this issue. First off, one cannot deny that the withdrawal is politically a significant humiliation for Russia. The question becomes, however, whether this sacrifice was necessary on military or political grounds, and what it may signify about the future course of the conflict.
As I see it, the withdrawal from west bank Kherson must be driven by one of the four following possibilities:
- The Ukrainian Army has defeated the Russian Army on the west bank and driven it back across the river.
- Russia is setting a trap in Kherson.
- A secret peace agreement (or at least ceasefire) has been negotiated which includes giving Kherson back to Ukraine.
- Russia has made a politically embarrassing but militarily prudent operational choice.
Let us simply run through these four and examine them in sequence.
Possibility 1: Military Defeat
The recapture of Kherson is being fairly celebrated by Ukrainians as a victory. The question is just what kind of victory it is – political/optical, or military? It becomes trivially obvious that it is the first sort. Let’s examine a few facts.
First off, as recently as the morning of November 9 – hours before the withdrawal was announced – some Russian war correspondents were expressing skepticism about the withdrawal rumors because Russia’s forward defensive lines were completely intact. There was no semblance of crisis among Russian forces in the region.
Secondly, Ukraine was not executing any intense offensive efforts in the region at the time the withdrawal began, and Ukrainian officials expressed skepticism that the withdrawal was even real. Indeed, the idea that Russia was laying a trap originates with Ukrainian officials who were apparently caught off guard by the withdrawal. Ukraine was not prepared to pursue or exploit, and advanced cautiously into the void after Russian soldiers were gone. Even with Russia withdrawing, they were clearly scared to advance, because their last few attempts to push through the defenses in the area became mass casualty events.
Overall, Russia’s withdrawal was implemented very quickly with minimal pressure from the Ukrainians – this very fact is the basis of the idea that it is either a trap or the result of a backroom deal that’s been concluded. In either case, Russia simply slipped back across the river without pursuit by the Ukrainians, taking negligible losses and getting virtually all of their equipment out (so far, a broken down T90 is the only Ukrainian capture of note). The net score on the Kherson Front remains a strong casualty imbalance in favor of Russia, and they once again withdraw without suffering a battlefield defeat and with their forces intact.
Possibility 2: It’s a Trap
This theory cropped up very soon after the withdrawal was announced. It originated with Ukrainian officials who were caught off guard by the announcement, and was then picked up (ironically) by Russian supporters who were hoping that 4D chess was being played – it is not. Russia is playing standard 2D chess, which is the only kind of chess there is, but more about that later.
It’s unclear what exactly “trap” is supposed to mean, but I’ll try to fill in the blanks. There are two possible interpretations of this: 1) a conventional battlefield maneuver involving a timely counterattack, and 2) some sort of unconventional move like a tactical nuclear weapon or a cascading dam failure.
It’s clear that there’s no battlefield counter in the offing, for the simple reason that Russia blew the bridges behind them. With no Russian forces left on the west bank and the bridges wrecked, there is no immediate capacity for either army to attack the other in force. Of course, they can shell each other across the river, but the actual line of contact is frozen for the time being.
That leaves the possibility that Russia intends to do something unconventional, like use a low yield nuke.
The idea that Russia lured Ukraine into Kherson to set off a nuke is… stupid.
If Russia wanted to use a nuclear weapon against Ukraine (which they don’t, for reasons I articulated in a previous article) there’s no sensible reason why they would choose a regional capital that they annexed as the site to do it. Russia has no shortage of delivery systems. If they wanted to nuke Ukraine, very simply, they wouldn’t bother abandoning their own city and making that the blast site. They would simply nuke Ukraine. It’s not a trap.
Possibility 3: Secret Deal
This was sparked by the news that US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan has been in contact with his Russian counterpart, and specifically the sense that the White House has been pushing for the negotiations. Under one rumored variant of the “Sullivan Deal”, Ukraine would acknowledge Russia’s annexations east of the Dnieper, while west bank Kherson would revert back to Kiev’s control.
I find this unlikely for a variety of reasons. First off, such a deal would represent an extremely pyrrhic Russian victory – while it would achieve the liberation of the Donbas (one of the explicit goals of the SMO) it would leave Ukraine largely intact and strong enough to be a perennial thorn in the side, as an inimical anti-Russian state. There would be the problem of probable further Ukrainian integration into NATO, and above all, the open surrender of an annexed regional capital.
On the Ukrainian side, the issue is that the recovery of Kherson only enhances the (false) perception in Kiev that total victory is possible, and that Crimea and the Donbas can be recovered entirely. Ukraine is enjoying a string of territorial advances, and feels that it is pushing its window of opportunity.
Ultimate, there seems to be no deal that satisfies both sides, and this reflects that the innate hostility between the two nations must be resolved on the battlefield. Only Ares can adjudicate this dispute.
As for Ares, he has been hard at work in Pavlovka.
While the world was fixated on the relatively bloodless change of hands in Kherson, Russia and Ukraine fought a bloody battle for Pavlovka, and Russia won. Ukraine also attempted to break Russia’s defenses in the Svatove axis, and was repulsed with heavy casualties. Ultimately, the main reason to doubt news of a secret deal is the fact that the war is continuing on all the other fronts – and Ukraine is losing. This leaves only one option.
Possibility 4: A Difficult Operational Choice
This withdrawal was subtly signaled shortly after General Surovikin was put in charge of the operation in Ukraine. In his first press conference, he signaled dissatisfaction with the Kherson front, calling the situation “tense and difficult” and alluding to the threat of Ukraine blowing dams on the Dnieper and flooding the area. Shortly thereafter, the process of evacuating civilians from Kherson began.
Here is what I think Surovikin decided about Kherson.
Kherson was becoming an inefficient front for Russia because of the logistical strain of supplying forces across the river with limited bridge and road capacity. Russia demonstrated that it was capable of shouldering this sustainment burden (keeping troops supplied all through Ukraine’s summer offensives), but the question becomes 1) to what purpose, and 2) for how long.
Ideally, the bridgehead becomes the launching point for offensive action against Nikolayev, but launching an offensive would require strengthening the force grouping in Kherson, which correspondingly raises the logistical burden of projecting force across the river. With a very long front to play with, Kherson is clearly one of the most logistically intensive axes. My guess is that Surovikin took charge and almost immediately decided he did not want to increase the sustainment burden by trying to push on Nikolayev.
Therefore, if an offensive is not going to be launched from the Kherson position, the question becomes – why hold the position at all? Politically, it is important to defend a regional capital, but militarily the position becomes meaningless if one is not going to go on the offensive in the south.
Let’s be even more explicit: unless an offensive towards Nikolayev is planned, the Kherson bridgehead is militarily counterproductive.
While holding the bridgehead in Kherson, the Dnieper River becomes a negative force multiplier – increasing the sustainment and logistics burden and ever threatening to leave forces cut off if Ukraine succeeds in destroying the bridges or bursting the dam. Projecting force across the river becomes a heavy burden with no obvious benefit. But by withdrawing to the east bank, the river becomes a positive force multiplier by serving as a defensive barrier.
In the broader operational sense, Surovikin seems to be declining battle in the south while preparing in the north and in the Donbas. It is clear that he made this decision shortly after taking command of the operation – he has been hinting at it for weeks, and the speed and cleanliness of the withdrawal suggests that it was well planned , long in advance. Withdrawing across the river increases the combat effectiveness of the army significantly and decreases the logistical burden, freeing resources for other sectors.
This fits the overall Russian pattern of making harsh choices about resource allocation, fighting this war under the simple framework of optimizing the loss ratios and building the perfect meatgrinder. Unlike the German Army in the second world war, the Russian army seems to be freed from political interference to make rational military decisions.
In this way, the withdrawal from Kherson can be seen as a sort of anti-Stalingrad. Instead of political interference hamstringing the military, we have the military freed to make operational choices even at the cost of embarrassing the political figures. And this, ultimately, is the more intelligent – if optically humiliating – way to fight a war.
Vir: Big Serge Thoughts
Dober članek. Vendar je za končno oceno še prezgodaj. Kaj je bil resničen vzrok, je v tem trenutku težko reči.
Operacija umika preko reke je ena najtežjih vojaških operacij sploh. Ponavadi pomeni, da se ob tem zavestno žrtvuje zaščitnico, ki mora držati mostiča (do lastnega konca, če je treba) dokler se glavnina ne umakne. So Rusi tako genialno nadigrali Ukrajince in NATO, da od 30 tisoč vojakov in 5 tisoč kosov težkega orožja niso izgubili niti enega vojaka in samo en kos težkega orožja? Da ob vseh ameriških satelitih in dronih tega umika ni bilo možno pravočasno zaznati? Da je bila razmočena zemlja in minirane ceste taka ovira, da Ukrajinci s sovjetsko tehniko, ki je bila narejena za take razmere (Ste kdaj opazili kako velika so kolesa ruskih vojaških tovornjakov, zakaj so gosenice ruskih oklepnikov tipično širše od zahodnih?), ne bi mogle slediti ruski vojski?
Če je to res, potem so Rusi izvedli eno najbolj uspešnih operacij v svetovni vojaški zgodovini? Čeprav imam bistveno boljše mnenje o sposobnosti ruske vojske, kot zahodni komentatorji, imam vseeno pomisleke glede tega.
Je bila situacija v Hersonskem bojišču res tako kritična? Big Serge pravilno ugotovi, kot sem omenil tudi sam v svojih predhodnih prispevkih na tem blogu, da je ruska vojska v zadnjih 2 mesecih zadala ukrajinski vojski katastrofalne izgube in to vse do zadnjih dni tik pred umikom. Ruska vojska v Hersonu ni bila poražena, daleč od tega.
Je bila logistična situacija tako huda? Rusija je tik pred zdajci mirno oskrbovala tako svojo vojsko kot prebivalce Herson-a. Tudi če vzamemo, da je res skoraj 45% populacije zapustilo mesto po ruski okupaciji, to še vedno pomeni, da je skoraj 150 tisoč ljudi (od skoraj 300 tisč) ostalo v mestu. In Rusi so to populacijo (in še nekaj deset tisoč v ostalih naseljih), kljub 3 mesečnemu bombardiranju mostov dokaj solidno oskrbovali. Ste slišali, da je kdo stradal kot v Leningradu med 2.sv? Še elektrike in plina so imeli bistveno več kot v ostalih delih Ukrajine. Potem, ko so Rusi evakuirali približno 120 tisoč civilistov, je bilo breme logistične oskrbe 30 (prej 40) tisočglave vojske bistveno lažje. In, če ste gledali video posnetke, ste lahko opazili, da se je na koncu ruska vojska umaknila preko mostov, ki naj bi bili v 3 mesecih menda “usodno” poškodovani? In da je ruska protiletalska obramba med umikom sestrelila ali onemogočila s protielektronskimi ukrepi vse HIMARS izstrelke ukrajinske vojske
Je bil obseg ukrajinske vojske tako velik, da bi bil problem za rusko vojsko v naslednjih mesecih? Po umiku so Ukrajinci napovedali, da bodo 40 tisoč vojakov premestili na druge dele fronte. Če vzamemo, da je 10 tisoč vojakov zaradi izjemne pozicije Dnjepra dovolj za obrambo desnega brega, potem velikost ukrajinske vojske (verjetno ne večja od max 60 tisoč) nikakor ni bila taka, da bi ruski kontingent na desnem bregu lahko ogrozila.
Kaj pa razstrelitev jezu na Novi Kahkovki? To je ruski argument. Ukrajinska stran je vseskozi razlagala še pred ruskim umikom, da tudi morebitna razstrelitev jezu nikakor ne bi dvignila gladine Dnjepra tako, da bi povzročila resne obsežne poplave. Tudi, če bi jih, bi to pomenilo za ruske sile max. 2 tedenski zamik dobav (po ruskih navedbah). Hja, to ni kar tako, vendar se da to močno omiliti s pravočasnim formiranjem zalog goriva, streliva in drugih potrebščin. Zahodni analitiki-Kofman na tem blogu,
ugotavljajo, da ni bilo nikakršne krize ruske vojske glede municije na hersonski fronti.
Če je vse to res, zakaj so se Rusi umaknili in tvegali trenuten ampak ne majhen politični udarec doma in v tujini? Mogoče niso nikoli mislili nadaljevati ofenzive v smeri Odese in Krivega roga? V resnici uradni predstavniki Rusije nikoli niso izjavili česa takega. Ampak zakaj so potem to ozemlje anektirali in je postalo del Ruske federacije? Odpoved delu ruskega ozemlja pomeni ustavni temelj za odstavitev predsednika Putin-a! Po drugi strani je predsednikov predstavnik za javnost Peskov omenil, da se Rusija nikakor ni pripravljena odpovedati temu ozemlju in da bo ostalo del Rusije. Prav tako je ponovno potrdil cilje vojaške operacije – demilitarizacijo in denacifikacijo, ki pa jih brez poraza oz. uničenja ukrajinske vojske ter postavitve bistveno drugačne oblasti v Ukrajini, verjetno ne da doseči. Putin, vsaj po pripovedovanju ljudi s katerimi sem govoril in so imeli stik z njim, drži besedo, ki jo da sobesedniku. Da ne bi držal besede ruskemu narodu?
Ali pa je mogoče za ruski umik bistveno bolj pomemben sestanek med Biden-ovim svetovalcem za nacionalno varnost Sullivan-om in ruskim predsednikom sveta za nacionalno varnost Patrušev-om pred tedni in posledični Sullivan-ov obisk v Kijev-u?
Surprise, surprise, se pred dnevi spet sprostijo finančne poti za plačilo ruske nafte in se začne trgovati z ruskimi kovinami na LME!!! So bojujoče se strani (Zahod z Ukrajino in Rusija) že utrujeni od vojne?
Se spomnite pogajanj v Turčiji v marcu? Takrat je že bil dosežen rusko-ukrajinski dogovor o umiku ruske vojske, nevtralnosti Ukrajine in zamrznitvi statusa Donbas-a in Krima. Dogovor je pokvaril Zahod z intervencijo Boris-a Johnson-a v Kijev-u takoj po tem in, po mojem mnenju (in še koga) zrežiranim “masakrom” v Buči, ki naj bi “zradikalizirala” javno mnenje na Zahod-u.
Je možna ponovitev tega dogovora potem, ko je Rusija že anektirala ta ozemlja? Je možno, da bi se Rusija odpovedala že anektiranim ozemljem, kljub temu, da prevladuje na bojiščih in to tik pred dokončnim aktiviranjem 300 tisoč mobilizirancev kar bi več kot podvojilo ruske sile v Ukrajini in vsekakor bistveno spremenilo razmerje sil?
Veliko je odprtih vprašanj na katere bomo verjetno dobili odgovore v naslednjih mesecih? Navsezadnje smo samo opazavalci od zunaj, ki čeprav prizadeti od te vojne, nismo njeni akterji in smo predvsem precej daleč od neposrednih informacij s katerimi razpolagajo akterji.
Medtem pa Rusi spet presenečajo. Od dodatnih 50 tisoč vojakov, ki so že okrepili sile v Ukrajini so največji kontingent (30 tisoč) poslali v Donbas, kjer je bistveno okrepil novo rusko ofenzivo. Ta se je usmerila ravno v najbolj utrjen del ukrajinske fronte (Makeevka, Marinka, Soledar, Bahmut-Artemovsk). Ta del fronte, ki so ga utrjevali z betonskimi utrdbami 8 let po 2014, v neposredni bližini dvomilijonskega Doneck-a, je področje, kjer je bil ruski udarec najmanj pričakovan. Kjer so ofenzivne akcije daleč najbolj zahtevne.
Ali ni prav zahteva vodenja vojne, vse od Sun Cu-ja naprej, da narediš to kar nasprotnik najmanj pričakuje?
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